May 19, 2024 2:38 pm

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Public invited to an Earth Day discussion with Dr. Carolyn Finney, author of ‘Black Faces, White Spaces’

EVERETT—Washington State University’s (WSU) second Everett Empowered speaker event is scheduled for April 18, from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m., featuring Dr. Carolyn Finney speaking about the environment and diversity in honor of Earth Day.

The Earth Day conversation will focus on why are African Americans are so underrepresented when it comes to interest in nature, outdoor recreation, and environmentalism.

Dr. Finney, the renowned author of “Black Faces, White Spaces,” brings to the forefront the often-unheard voices and experiences of African Americans in environmental spaces. Her work illuminates the importance of diversity in environmental narratives and policies, making her an exemplary figure to join our series.

Dr. Finney will look beyond the discourse of the environmental justice movement to examine how the natural environment has been understood, commodified, and represented by both white and black Americans.

Bridging the fields of environmental history, cultural studies, critical race studies, and geography, Finney argues that the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, and racial violence have shaped cultural understandings of the “great outdoors” and determined who should and can have access to natural spaces.

Drawing on a variety of sources from film, literature, and popular culture, and analyzing different historical moments, including the establishment of the Wilderness Act in 1964 and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Finney reveals the perceived and real ways in which nature and the environment are racialized in America. Looking toward the future, she also highlights the work of African Americans who are opening doors to greater participation in environmental and conservation concerns.

To register for this FREE in-person event at Washington State University’s Everett campus visit:

The is the second WSU Everett Empowered speaker event. The first was held on Thursday, March 28, where Dr. David Makin, Associate Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, discussed his team’s efforts in launching the nation’s first ever publicly accessible all-incident public safety data portal.

Who is Dr. Carolyn Finney?

Carolyn Finney
Carolyn Finney

Dr. Carolyn Finney, PhD is a storyteller, author and a cultural geographer who is deeply interested in issues related to identity, difference, creativity, and resilience. The aim of her work is to develop greater cultural competency within environmental organizations and institutions, challenge media outlets on their representation of difference, and increase awareness of how privilege shapes who gets to speak to environmental issues and determine policy and action. Carolyn is grounded in both artistic and intellectual ways of knowing – she pursed an acting career for eleven years, but five years of backpacking trips through Africa and Asia, and living in Nepal changed the course of her life.

Motivated by these experiences, Dr. Finney returned to school after a 15-year absence to complete a B.A., M.A. (both of these degrees focused on gender and environmental issues in Kenya and Nepal, respectively) and Ph.D. (which focused on African Americans and environmental issues in the U.S.) She has been a Fulbright Scholar, a Canon National Parks Science Scholar and received a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Environmental Studies. 

Dr. Finney has worked with the media in various capacities including the Tavis Smiley Show, MSNBC, & Vice News Tonight; wrote Op-Eds for Outside Magazine & Newsweek; was a guest editor & contributor for a special section on Race & the National Parks in Orion Magazine; participated in a roundtable conversation with REI and The Atlantic; interviewed with various media outlets including NPR, Sierra Club, Boston Globe & National Geographic; and even filmed a commercial for Toyota that highlighted the importance of African Americans getting out into Nature.

Along with public speaking, writing, consulting and teaching (she has held positions at Wellesley College, the University of California, Berkeley & the University of Kentucky), she served on the U.S. National Parks Advisory Board for eight years which assists the National Park Service in engaging in relations of reciprocity with diverse communities.  Her first book, Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors was released in 2014 (UNC Press).                   

Recent publications include “The Space Between the Words” (Harvard Design Journal Spring 2018), “A Thousand Oceans” (Geographical Research, Wiley Pub., Fall 2019) “This Moment” (River Rail: Occupy Colby Fall 2019), Self-Evident: Reflections on the Invisibility of Black Bodies in Environmental Histories (BESIDE Magazine, Montreal Spring 2020),”The Perils of Being Black in Public: We are all Christian Cooper and George Floyd (The Guardian, June 3rd 2020) and “Who Gets Left Out of the Great Outdoors Story?” (The NY Times November 4, 2021).

She is currently working on a performance piece entitled The N Word: Nature Revisited as part of a Mellon residency at the New York Botanical Gardens. Along with being the new columnist at the Earth Island Journal, Dr. Finney was recently awarded the Alexander and Ilse Melamid Medal from the American Geographical Society and is an artist-in-residence and the Environmental Studies Professor of Practice in the Franklin Environmental Center at Middlebury College.

SOURCE: Washington State University

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